For just the seventh time in their lengthy history, Notre Dame and Ohio State prepare to meet on the gridiron this weekend.
ND-OSU, an Ever-Elusive Showdown
Notre Dame and Ohio State are two of college football’s undisputed blue bloods. Not only have both programs existed since the 19th century, but the Fighting Irish and Buckeyes also share 19 national championships, 14 Heisman Trophy winners, and over 1,800 combined victories. Such historical accolades have been backed up by recent success as well, with the two schools each picking up 50-plus wins over the past five seasons. However, despite a mere 205 miles separating Notre Dame Stadium from Ohio Stadium, Saturday’s clash will mark just the seventh all-time meeting between these giants of the gridiron. Quantity has certainly been lacking when it comes to this bout, but its quality has been undeniable.
November 2, 1935: Notre Dame 18, Ohio State 13
In a time when the Pennsylvania Railroad transported fans from South Bend to Columbus, Ohio Stadium hosted the first-ever “Game of the Century”. The 5-0 Irish faced the 4-0 Buckeyes before 81,000 spectators, and the home crowd had plenty to roar about early on. Notre Dame threw two interceptions that yielded Buckeye touchdowns, resulting in a halftime score of 13-0. As the second half progressed, the Irish were barreling towards their first blemish of the season — that is, until Andy Pilney delivered the performance of a lifetime. The Kansas native set up Notre Dame’s first touchdown with a long punt return, then threw for a second score. Trailing 13-12 with under two minutes remaining, the defense forced an improbable fumble near midfield and Pilney gained 30 yards on a run that brought him a season-ending leg injury. Bill Shakespeare finished the job, finding Wayne Millner for the game-winning touchdown. As Notre Dame fans stormed the field in elation, the series was off and running in grand style.
October 13, 1936: Ohio State 2, Notre Dame 7
The back end of a home-and-away series saw the epitome of 1930s football take shape in South Bend. Contrary to the prior season, both Ohio State (2-2) and Notre Dame (3-1) were off to troublesome starts leading up to a windy, rainy Saturday afternoon. Though weather ruled the day, the rules of the game themselves stung OSU at the worst imaginable time. In the final moments of the contest, and with the Buckeyes driving deep into Irish territory, the offense threw back-to-back incompletions in the end zone. At the time, this resulted in an automatic touchback, allowing Notre Dame to take possession and end the game. Ohio State would have a long time to mull over not one, but two heartbreaking defeats to the Irish.
September 30, 1995: No. 15 Notre Dame 26, No. 7 Ohio State 45
After 59 years of waiting, the Buckeyes finally received another shot at the Irish in Columbus. The visitors built up a 17-7 advantage behind two of Randy Kinder’s three touchdown runs, but it was only a matter of time until the Buckeye offense (36.5 points per game in 1995) flipped the switch. Quarterback Bobby Hoying hurled four touchdowns, one of which covered 82 yards in the arms of top receiver Terry Glenn. The showstopper was soon-to-be Heisman winner Eddie George, who terrorized the Irish defense to the tune of 207 rushing yards and a pair of scores. It all amounted to a 31-point second half for the Buckeyes and an electrifying rebirth of the ND-OSU series.
September 28, 1996: No. 4 Ohio State 29, No. 5 Notre Dame 16
The stakes were through the roof once again as the series returned to Indiana. Ohio State (2-0) had outscored Rice and Pittsburgh 142-7 to begin the campaign, while Notre Dame (3-0) was coming off a narrow victory over sixth-ranked Texas in Austin. The Buckeyes took firm control of the game immediately, scoring under two minutes into the affair and leading 22-7 at halftime. Ohio State’s defense finished the year with just 10.1 points allowed per game, and the Irish bore witness to their dominance, being held to 3.8 yards per play. Offensively, Pepe Pearson gave Eddie George a run for his money with 179 rushing yards and two trips to the end zone, as the Buckeyes locked up their first win over a top-five opponent in 11 years. OSU is slated to visit Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since this matchup next September.
2005-06 Fiesta Bowl: No. 4 Ohio State 34, No. 5 Notre Dame 20
To end the 2005 season, a postseason matchup finally came calling for Notre Dame and Ohio State. Both teams entered with 9-2 records and were led by sensational talents at quarterback – Troy Smith (OSU) won the 2006 Heisman Trophy and Brady Quinn (ND) finished third. However, Smith’s supporting cast made headlines in the final Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. Wide receiver Ted Ginn exploded for 240 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns, while running back Antonio Pittman logged 136 rushing yards and put the game on ice with a 60-yard house call late in the fourth quarter. Ohio State – en route to its third Fiesta Bowl victory in four years – had Notre Dame’s defense in a daze, outgaining the Irish 617-348 in total yardage.
2015-16 Fiesta Bowl: No. 7 Ohio State 44, No. 8 Notre Dame 28
Halfway through November, Notre Dame and Ohio State seemed more likely to meet in the College Football Playoff than anywhere else. However, late-season losses to Stanford and Michigan State, respectively, shifted the sixth and most recent matchup back to Arizona. The Irish struggled to contain OSU early, as the Buckeyes opened up a 28-7 advantage before halftime. Matters were made worse for Notre Dame when star linebacker Jaylon Smith went down with a significant knee injury. Ezekiel Elliott, who had made a name for himself in Ohio State’s 2014 national championship victory, racked up 149 rushing yards and found paydirt four times. No player has rushed for more than three touchdowns against the Irish since.
Put it all together, and Notre Dame has not beaten Ohio State in 86 years. In their four losses, the Irish have struggled mightily in containing the Buckeyes’ top offensive weapons. That theme could certainly make itself known again on Saturday, as OSU boasts a Heisman Trophy favorite in quarterback C.J. Stroud, FBS single-game receiving yards record-holder Jaxon Smith-Njigba and two more highly touted wideout prospects in Julian Fleming and Marvin Harrison Jr. Notre Dame, even as a two-touchdown underdog, is looking to begin the Marcus Freeman era by putting an old narrative to bed. An Irish triumph on Saturday would snap a 14-game losing streak against top-15 teams in games away from Notre Dame Stadium, a slump that includes the aforementioned 2016 Fiesta Bowl.